Chapter 6 Summary

Emma Bovary's Eyes

Braithwaite hates literary critics. He holds up as an example the scholar and lecturer Enid Starkie, a highly distinguished Oxford emeritus whose professional life had been dedicated to the study of French literature, primarily Flaubert. Starkie had an atrocious French accent, he carps. He is angry with Starkie for pointing out that Flaubert gave the color of Emma Bovary's eyes as blue, brown, and black—with the passages given in footnotes. He admits that on reading this, he was at first annoyed with Flaubert, but his ire soon shifted to the critic.

Writers are not perfect, Braithwaite argues, "anymore than husbands and wives are perfect." He never believed that his wife was perfect, but he loved her anyway. He cites famous bloopers in esteemed works by diligent authors, such as in William Golding's Lord of the Flies: Piggy's glasses being in reality incapable of starting a fire. Arcane errors that do not hinder the text and are innocently made by imperfect writers are forgivable. Braithwaite, however, is greatly perturbed by a proof that the quintessentially careful Flaubert had been sloppy about the color of his best-known heroine's eyes.

Braithwaite pities authors when it comes to choosing a character's eye color. The options are incredibly limited, and each color carries an established indicator. Blue is for innocence, black is for passion, brown is for common sense, green is for wildness. His wife's eyes were bluish green, "which makes her story a long one."

After launching more cheap shots at Starkie's clothes and mannerisms, Braithwaite notes that the portrait used for the frontispiece in Starkie's biography of Flaubert is, in fact, of his friend Louis Bouilhet. He adds that he has just finished rereading Madame Bovary and that the moral of the chapter is not to be afraid of footnotes. He then gives in full the six passages that describe Emma's eye color. They are brown, but appear black; they are black in shadow and blue in bright daylight, but on waking contain layers of color that lighten toward the surface; they are black in the remaining four passages. It is clear to Braithwaite that far from being sloppy, Flaubert had shown particular craftsmanship in giving Emma's eyes the "rare and difficult" quality of a "tragic adulteress." To bolster his claim, he cites Du Camp's description of the woman upon whom Emma was modeled. Her eyes were "of uncertain colour, green, grey, or blue, according to the light."